Technology offers possibility of scanning for oil from the air

A Scottish firm is hoping to develop technology to scan for underground oil deposits from the air.

Scientists at Adrok, Edinburgh, Scotland, have pioneered a scanner that uses a technique called atomic dielectric resonance (ADR) to detect and measure onshore oil reservoirs using radio and microwaves, reducing the need to drill test wells.

They have proven the technology works at depths of up to 4km and now hope to adapt it to search for offshore deposits, and so they can scan wider areas from the air.

‘The advantage of going airborne is that we can survey larger areas of land so the size of the projects could increase dramatically,’ Adrok’s managing director, Gordon Stove, told The Engineer.

‘The challenge will be penetrating the air column before we hit the ground. There’s a difference between the air and ground that we’d have to work with. And once the signal hits the ground, we don’t want it to dissipate.’

The scanner works by sending radio and microwaves into the ground, and measuring the resonance of electrons in the mineral atoms and how the energy is changed when it is reflected by the different rock layers.

‘People had never figured out deep penetration into the ground before,’ said Stove. ‘With conventional devices the ground soaks up the waves. The secret is the resonance of the beam and the interaction with the ground material.’

Adrok estimates that it can cut the cost of oil companies’ exploratory drilling by up to 70 per cent through reducing the number of wells needed.

The scanner’s most recent use successfully predicted the presence of an oil reservoir in Oklahoma, US, which now produces 22 barrels of oil and 1,400,000 cubic feet of gas a day.

The firm uses the scanner to create a series of ‘virtual boreholes’ at different points in the area and extrapolates the data to form a picture of the size and depth of the deposit. Test wells are then drilled to confirm the scanner’s findings.

In locating the Oklahoma well, Adrok also proved the scanner’s ability to detect dry holes, namely deposits with no oil or gas significant reserves.

Stove said most onshore deposits in the company’s target markets of the US and Middle East were at depths of less than 2km, well within the scanner’s range.

‘Our own internal tests have shown we can scan at depths of 20km and in theory we should be able to go beyond that.’

ADR was developed by Adrok’s chairman and Gordon Stove’s father, Colin Stove. The technology has also been used by the mining industry to look for titanium and has potential applications in water detection, civil engineering and security.